The prime minister’s policy of de facto annexation of the West Bank will end badly for everyone, and there will be no way out.
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It took a while, but the prime minister’s political ideology seems to have been decoded. The designation of a university in the West Bank city of Ariel, Judge Edmond Levy's report that Israel is not an occupier, the construction of more than a thousand new buildings in the settlements and intensive Israeli activity in Area C in the West Bank, all indicate the fundamental political principles that guide Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite the comfortable situation at present – no terror attacks, international pressure or political opposition – Netanyahu understands the ground is quaking beneath the feet of the Zionist project. Even he can put two and two together. Israel cannot absorb millions of Palestinians and remain a Jewish country. What is the solution? In the past, Netanyahu was firmly opposed to a Palestinian state. But he has supported a two-state solution since first endorsing it in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009. We were supposed to rejoice over the triumph of the Oslo Accords' ideology. The problem is that Netanyahu's application of the ideology on the ground is putting Israel's existence in danger.
Defective, partial implementation of the Oslo Accords has created the current situation, where the Palestinian Authority only controls the territory known as Areas and B, comprising 40 percent of the West Bank. These areas are scattered like an archipelago in the ocean of Area C – the 60 percent of the area under Israel’s control – cut off from each other and at the mercy of the Israel Defense Forces. Area C includes many settlements, few Palestinians and mainly open areas. The Oslo Accords required these open areas to be handed over to the Palestinians by 1999. This was never done.
Israel's new approach can be called "Bibi C." Netanyahu's overarching goal is simple, the tactic is clever and the results are disastrous. The aim is to control as much territory with as few Palestinians as possible, and to claim that the Palestinians can establish a state on the remaining land.
In this scenario, Israel controls the Palestinian state's entrances, exits and water supply, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, the air space, most of Jerusalem and the border with Jordan. The room for flexibility in final status negotiations will decrease to the point where tunnels and bridges will be needed to create a territorially contiguous Palestinian state and the Palestinians will be left asking Israel how much of Area C it is willing to part with (very little).
The placement of 124 settlements and a hundred outposts, together with what academics used to call a "stakeholder analysis," indicates that Netanyahu is interested in annexing about 40 percent of the West Bank.
We should remember that in the talks between Palestinian leader Abu Mazen and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which almost led to an agreement, Olmert offered to annex about six percent of the West Bank with an equal amount of territorial compensation elsewhere. United States President Bill Clinton’s proposal spoke of three to six percent annexation, with compensation.
Israel has already de facto annexed Area C. The route of the separation barrier is no longer relevant. Creeping annexation is taking place deep within the West Bank, coming right up against Palestinian population centers in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. Israel is investing billions of shekels in land in Area C and deliberately preventing the development of Palestinian infrastructure there. At the same time, a sophisticated campaign is under way to change the way the public regards Area C, and the Levy report is part of that. Also, in light of proposals to apply Israeli sovereignty to “all the communities in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu will be able to portray his plan as relatively moderate.
A situation is taking shape on the ground from which there will be no way back. If this trend continues, even if leaders like Yitzhak Rabin or Ehud Olmert come to power and wish to go back to the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders with territorial exchanges, the situation will not allow it. A downward slide toward the occupation of the West Bank, the crumbling of the Palestinian Authority and an apartheid regime are not far off.
The policy of de facto annexation will further weaken the moderate Palestinian camp, which will be forced to admit there is no way to bring about the end of the occupation and establish a sustainable Palestinian state by holding peace talks. At the same time, the Western and Arab world will realize where Israel is headed. The ramifications could be devastating, with Egypt and Jordan severing relations, Europe and the United States implementing boycotts and the world coming to view Israel in much the same way it did South Africa's apartheid regime.
The author is the co-chairman of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum.